Let's face it, there's always going to be some type of narrative when it comes to the Vancouver Canucks. Sometimes it seems that the media that cover this team are spending more time on damage control, just trying to get the truth out there in the midst of all the outrage and hyperbole hurled at this team from national and regional media corps alike. I know that even here, we don't all agree on things, Mike Gillis' rant yesterday being one of them. The problem is, I can't see anything wrong with what he said. Did he lie? Try and convince people about something that didn't happen? Nope. Gillis was bang on. He's tired, as I am sure we all are of being forced into justification for our support of this hockey team. Sometimes embracing the hate isn't as easy as it sounds. Sure, we don't know these guys personally, but who amongst us isn't sick to death of hearing 'sisters' hurled at the Sedins, or seeing Alexandre Burrows' name uttered in the same breath as guys like Daniel Carcillo and Matt Cooke? Or the myriad of complaints about Roberto Luongo, which is quite nearly an industry unto itself? The nauseating part, is so much of this hate, misinformation and out and out garbage had a birthplace: right here at home.
It's the very nature of being a sports fan to complain about one's team. Unless you're cheering for the Montreal Canadiens from the mid-70's, chances are your team of choice is not without flaws. You couldn't get a finer example of it than the recent stretch the Canucks have been on, where the rumblings of discontent of the fan base belies the fact that the Canucks haven't lost in regulation in the last 11 games. In some markets, they'd not just be seeing that glass as half full, but something akin to the water in it now turned to wine. In Vancouver, where Stanley Cup aspirations remain as high as ever, it's a sign that the team is struggling and changes need to be made. Now granted, there's not a massive call for the coach to be fired such as the one in Chicago where a win over the Rangers Thursday put the brakes on a stretch of 9 straight losses. But there are some who, win or lose cast doubt on Alain Vigneault's abilities. And it's not like there aren't legitimate signs of struggle. Daniel and Henrik Sedin are mired in a slump where they look tired and disinterested right now. On some teams, that might be a kiss of death. Vancouver? Balanced scoring and enviable depth, along with a stellar goaltending tandem means points in 11 straight games.
And it's this refusal to see positives (not blindly ignore negatives, but acknowledge them and how the team overcomes them) that is the seed that other 'fans' nourish and grow into a manifestation of self-loathing. The Sedin 'Sisters' narrative has it's roots right here at home, as fans already impatient with a team in the midst of a rebuild lashed out at the two who have gone on to become legitimate NHL Superstars, and they did so because they were nurtured by the Canucks, allowed to grow into the North American game instead of having the responsibility of leading the team thrust upon them when they weren't ready. It was never fair, and the local media certainly didn't do enough to discourage it. It spread, and now you can't interact with another team's fans without them taking this tired, embarrassing and degrading swipe at the two players who are among the NHL's elite.
Vancitydan's piece yesterday about Gillis touched on Alex Burrows, and the road he's traveled to get to the NHL. On another team, he might be considered a star. In blue and green, he is a despised player across the league because of the refusal to look past his agitator past (and yes, for the most part it is past. Burr's role on this team has changed dramatically since he started with the team). Sure he still gets under guys skins', but his roles are as winger on the Canucks top line plus a heavy responsibility on special teams, most notably penalty killing. I would suggest the need to have him out shorthanded has tons to do with the major reduction in his penalty minutes again this season.
Is there a player so undeservedly chastised in his hometown as much as Roberto Luongo? Even the most casual of hockey fans knows that there's no such thing as a love/hate relationship between Canucks fans and the team's netminders. Instead, it's two camps: They either love them, or hate them. There were a number of bloody awful goalies suiting up for this team over the years, and this irrationality has it's roots there. The one exception is Kirk McLean. McLean was front and center during that magical 94 Cup run, and as such seemingly earned himself a free pass from the locals. Roberto Luongo has been a better goaltender than McLean. His stats bear it out: he is one of the best goalies of this generation. He came here facing so much criticism, and taken the brunt of the blame for the team not succeeding. He wears the tag of a goalie that cannot win, even after helping Canada to a gold medal in the Olympics and getting to the 7th game of the Stanley Cup Finals. Win as a team. Lose as a team. Except in Vancouver. His Stanley Cup will come with an asterisk in the hearts of some of our own fans, and it's a bloody shame that some of you feel that way. Your bitterness about the troubled past of this team is keeping you from enjoying a 2nd straight season where this team is one of the favorites to take home the prize. You don't have to be a mindless yes man with blinders on, but if you can't appreciate how damn good this team is, and how close they are to finally raising Lord Stanley's Mug, then I feel sorry for you.
It's going to be the same as they head into the playoffs. Other teams will be showered with praise, and the Canucks will be doubted, and no doubt we'll see much of the same nonsense we saw last spring, where they are portrayed as villains and scoundrels. Pick your battles. Know when to let it go, and know when to speak out. This team is going to make another run at the Cup, whether or not the rest of the league likes it.
One more thing about what Mike Gillis had to say: If Toronto fans are up in arms about this, they're missing the point. This wasn't a shot at the team at all. No, this was all about journalists that cover that team in particular. You all know who they are. Hell, you spend much of your day complaining about them. Myself, I don't have a problem with the Leafs. I appreciate what Brian Burke is doing there in Toronto, slowly building them back to respectability. I would love to see them make the playoffs, because their absence from the post-season all these years is a detriment to the game. They're one of the cornerstone franchises, and the excitement that would be generated by even a 1 round appearance would do more than a long run in a city where hockey isn't even the 3rd or 4th choice of sports fans. Do I like to see the Canucks beat the Leafs? Hell yes. There's always that Canadian pride element. That will never change. But hate them? Nope. I've stored that up for the teams in our own division who a long, long, LONG time ago used to make life a living hell for this team. The score's evening out slowly over the years in this circle of life we know as hockey. Here's to a great game tonight. That's the only narrative that matters.
Remember back to that win over the Bruins, and the way they seemed to just fall apart in every aspect of the game on and off the ice since then? It sure looks like they haven't gotten over it. A team that looked like an unstoppable juggernaut hasn't won back to back games since the two following that early January loss, and the team's fans and media are nearing panic mode, casting doubt on the team (our friends at Stanley Cup Of Chowder even speculated if Chara's captaincy was up to snuff last night), and wondering if they shouldn't put together a package to pursue Rick Nash. With the cost surely to include Tuukka Rask, prospect Dougie Hamilton and more, it seems like such a panic fueled idea from a team that still sits in 2nd place in the East. Injuries are mounting on this team that seemed to be invincible last season, as they finally get a taste of how everyone else lives. My bet? One more injury sees them forced to make huge moves... A lot of media attention right now is focused on Anaheim and their improvement under Bruce Boudreau. Sure they're playing some great hockey right now, but it's as much about a team playing a little closer to their abilities than the massive underachieving that was going on to start the year. I still wonder if they can claw their way back into the playoffs, given their schedule and the dog fight going on above them... Has there been a team as disappointing this season as the Buffalo Sabres? After the massive splash the team made in free agency thanks to new owner Terry Pegula, they had some penciling them in to contend for the title in the East. Instead Saturday morning has them sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. To be fair, they're 9 back of the 8th place Leafs, but they have been a massive flop compared to their expectations. One has to think this is the last season for the longest serving coach in the NHL, Lindy Ruff...
KICKASS METAL SONG OF THE DAY
New Meshuggah? New Meshuggah. As we await release of the Swedish experimental metal band's latest album 'Koloss', here's a track to whet your appetite...